With Selection Sunday rapidly approaching and conference tournaments about to heat up, now is the perfect time to speculate on the hottest topics in college basketball. Everything from top-seed placement to bubble team résumés are up for speculation.
Who’s number one?
One of the predominant themes of the year has been the instability at the top of the national rankings. Top five teams fell with regularity not only to other competitive teams but also to underdogs with slim chances of making the tournament.
Entering the final week, the team in the best position to claim a stake to the number one overall seed is the Gonzaga Bulldogs. The Zags continue to shed their mid-major status, and, despite playing in the lesser known West Coast Conference, ascended to number one in the polls for the first time in school history last week. With only two losses, it would be shocking at this point not to see them nab one of the four top seeds in the bracket.
After Gonzaga, the picture gets muddled with very similar teams. Indiana, Duke, Kansas, Georgetown, Miami and Michigan have all put together solid seasons but have also gone through cold stretches. More likely than not, the teams that emerge as champions in the Big Ten and ACC will get number one seeds, and at this point in time, Georgetown would slip into the final top line spot.
Big Ten vs. Big East
These two conferences have, without a doubt, been the best two in college basketball this season. Each will get at least seven teams in the tournament, but which teams those will be and where the selection committee ultimately places them remain the key questions over the next two weeks.
The differences between the likes of Michigan State and Ohio State (Big Ten) and Louisville and Syracuse (Big East) are incredibly hard to pinpoint. The committee will likely have some of the longest conversations of Selection Sunday on whether or not the Big Ten teams or the Big East teams will receive the fourth seed.
Regardless of the final numbers, the bracket is going to be chock full of quality teams from the 3-7 seed lines, most of them from these conferences.
The little guys
Respect for the smaller conferences goes beyond Gonzaga’s number one ranking. Most of the projections have lower level conferences like the Atlantic 10 and Mountain West Conference slotted for as many as five teams in the tournament.
These high numbers are rare for the “mid-major” conferences and are the result not only of the continued success of traditional powers like UNLV (MWC) and Butler (A-10) but also the surprise performances like LaSalle in the A-10 and Boise State out west.
Many of these teams put up solid showings in their non-conference schedules, and the competitive balance in league play only solidified their tournament potential.
As in every other season, there will be serious contention over the last few at-large spots into the tournament. This will be the third consecutive year in which the tournament will feature its “First Four” opening round where the last four at-large teams will compete to enter the official bracket. No team wants to have to play an additional game, so souring up the résumé will be the top priority for bubble teams.
This year, the bubble features an increased number of power conference teams, including traditional powers Kentucky and Villanova. The best opportunity to showcase their tournament readiness will come via the individual conference tournaments that will be played in the next week. Two or three wins against solid conference opponents typically will lead to final berth and potentially an invitation to the big dance.
Overall, the task of the selection committee is not an enviable one. There are going to be a lot of disappointed teams, both those ultimately in and out of the bracket, but this is always the case. But if the competitive balance that existed this regular season tells us anything, it is that this tournament should be another classic.